Biden Live News: Updates on – The New York Times

President Biden is looking for ways to pay for his $1.5 trillion American Families Plan and his $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal.
Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

President Biden is expected to propose giving the Internal Revenue Service an extra $80 billion and more authority over the next 10 years as he looks for ways to raise money to pay for his economic agenda, according to two people familiar with the plan.

Mr. Biden is expected to propose beefing up the I.R.S. to crack down on individuals and corporations that evade paying federal taxes. He will use the recouped tax funds to help pay for the cost of his American Families Plan, which he will detail before addressing a joint session of Congress on Wednesday.

Mr. Biden’s plan, which comes on top of a $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal, is expected to cost at least $1.5 trillion and include funding for universal prekindergarten, federal paid leave, efforts to make child care more affordable, free community college and tax credits meant to fight poverty.

The plan will also call for tax increases, including raising the top marginal income tax rate for wealthy Americans and raising the rate that people who earn more than $1 million a year pay on profits earned from the sale of stocks or other assets. Mr. Biden is also expected to call for raising the rate on income that those earning more than $1 million a year get from stock dividends, according to a person familiar with the proposal.

The administration will portray these efforts, coupled with new taxes it is proposing on corporations and the rich, as a way to level the tax playing field between typical American workers and high earners who employ sophisticated efforts to minimize or evade taxation.

Administration officials have privately concluded that an aggressive crackdown on tax avoidance by corporations and the rich could raise at least $700 billion on net over 10 years. The $80 billion in proposed funding would be an increase of two-thirds over the agency’s entire funding levels for the past decade.

Previous administrations have long talked about trying to close the so-called tax gap — the amount of money that taxpayers owe but that is not collected each year. Earlier this month, the head of the I.R.S., Charles Rettig, told a Senate committee that the agency lacks the resources to catch tax cheats, costing the government as much as $1 trillion a year. The agency’s funding has failed to keep pace with inflation in recent years, amid budget tightening efforts, and its audits of rich taxpayers have declined.

Joseph R. Biden Jr., then vice president, at a 2015 event calling for a $15 minimum wage in New York.
Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times

President Biden plans to sign an executive order on Tuesday raising the minimum wage paid by federal contractors to $15 an hour, the latest in a set of ambitious pro-labor moves at the outset of his administration.

The new minimum is expected to take effect next year and is likely to affect hundreds of thousands of workers, according to a White House document. The current minimum is $10.95 under an order that President Barack Obama signed in 2014. Like that order, the new one will require that the new minimum wage rise with inflation.

White House economists believed the increase would not lead to significant job losses, a finding in line with recent research on the minimum wage, and that it was unlikely to cost taxpayers more money, two administration officials said in a call with reporters. They argued that the higher wage would lead to greater productivity and lower turnover.

The White House also contends that although the number of workers directly affected by the increase is relatively small as a share of the economy, the executive order will indirectly raise wages beyond federal contractors by forcing other employers to bid up pay as they compete for workers.

Several cities have a minimum wage of at least $15 an hour, and several states have laws that will raise their minimum wage to at least that level in the coming years. There is so far little evidence on how a $15 minimum wage affects employment in lower-cost areas of such states.

Two years ago, the House of Representatives passed a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, but the legislation has faced long odds in the Senate. Mr. Biden sought to incorporate such a measure in his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package so that it could pass on a simple majority vote, but the Senate parliamentarian ruled that it could not be included.

Mr. Biden’s executive order will also eliminate the so-called tipped minimum wage for federal contractors, which currently allows employers to pay tipped workers $7.65 an hour as long as their tips put them over the regular minimum wage. Under the new minimum, all workers must be paid at least $15 an hour.

The order will technically begin a rule-making process that is expected to conclude by early next year. The wage will be incorporated into new contracts and existing contracts as they are extended.

Wearing masks while walking through the Fremont Street Experience in Last Vegas earlier this month.
Credit…Joe Buglewicz for The New York Times

President Biden and top U.S. health officials are expected on Tuesday to announce new recommendations for fully vaccinated individuals, including a possible easing of mask restrictions outdoors.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on NBC News last week that the agency was “looking at” whether it’s still necessary to wear a mask outdoors. And on Sunday, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, said that the federal health agency might move toward loosening mask requirements.

He characterized the risk of infection to a vaccinated individual outdoors as “minuscule.”

“I think it’s pretty common sense now that outdoor risk is really, really quite low,” for a vaccinated people, Dr. Fauci said on the ABC News program “This Week.”

Several states have already dropped mask mandates and fully reopened indoor and outdoor venues, even for large sporting events. New York still has mask requirements.

A growing body of research indicates that the risk of spreading the virus is far lower outdoors than indoors. Viral particles disperse quickly outdoors, experts say, meaning brief encounters with a passing walker or jogger pose very little risk of transmission.

“That biker who whizzes by without a mask poses no danger to us, at least from a respiratory virus perspective,” Dr. Paul Sax, an infectious disease specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, wrote in a blog post for The New England Journal of Medicine.

A recent systematic review of studies that examined the transmission of the coronavirus and other respiratory viruses among unvaccinated individuals concluded that fewer than 10 percent of infections occurred outdoors and that the odds for indoor transmission were 18.7 times higher than outdoors. (The odds of superspreading events were 33 times higher indoors.)

But the paper’s author said that the low odds of transmission outdoors could simply reflect the fact that people had spent little time outside. In cases where transmissions occurred outdoors, there was often also prolonged or frequent contact with another individual or a group of people, or an indoor component to an outdoor gathering, said Dr. Nooshin Razani, an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco.

“It does happen: You can get infected outdoors,” she said. “It usually has to do with how long you’re with someone and how often you see them, and if you’re wearing a mask and if you’re close to each other.”

The C.D.C. currently recommends that vaccinated people should wear masks and maintain six feet of distance from others in public, including while taking public transportation such as buses, trains or planes and while in transportation hubs. It also recommends they continue to avoid crowds, large gatherings and poorly ventilated spaces.

Vice President Kamala Harris last Thursday, during a roundtable at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington.
Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

President Biden will go to Philadelphia on Friday and Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Ohio to reiterate the themes Mr. Biden is expected to lay out in his first address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, including pushing for swift approval of his $4 trillion economic agenda.

The stops will be part of what White House officials are calling the “Getting America Back on Track Tour,” which will start on Thursday, with Mr. Biden in Georgia and Ms. Harris in Baltimore, and continue next week.

A White House official said Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris — along with their spouses and, next week, cabinet members — would use the public events to promote the administration’s early record on the economy and the pandemic. They will emphasize that the nation hit 200 million coronavirus vaccine shots in Mr. Biden’s first 100 days.

They will also stress the deployment of $1,400 direct checks to individuals, expanded tax credits for parents and support for small businesses, among other provisions in the $1.9 trillion economic rescue plan the president signed into law earlier this year.

The official said Mr. Biden, Ms. Harris and others would also push Congress to pass Mr. Biden’s American Jobs Plan, which he announced in Pittsburgh last month, and his American Families Plan, which he is set to describe before his speech this week.

Those plans are the two halves of Mr. Biden’s longer-run economic agenda, which totals $4 trillion in new spending and tax breaks, offset by higher taxes on corporations and the rich. They focus on physical infrastructure, like ports and bridges, along with what the administration calls human infrastructure: support for workers, students and families.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, and others have argued that having commanders in control of sexual assault cases has prevented service members from coming forward out of fear of retaliation.
Credit…Pete Marovich for The New York Times

After decades of failing to curb sexual assault in the armed forces, lawmakers and Pentagon leaders are poised to make major changes in military laws that many experts have long argued stand in the way of justice.

A bill championed by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, would remove military commanders from a role in prosecuting service members for sexual assault. It has gained support from scores of key members of Congress.

Among them is Senator Joni Ernst, Republican of Iowa and a retired National Guard lieutenant colonel, who said her own experience with assault and her daughter’s stories from West Point helped shift her views on the issue.

Ms. Ernst’s nod on a new bipartisan measure is likely to attract several other key lawmakers. Other senators — many of whom voted against the measure in the past — said in interviews that they had waited long enough for the military to solve the problem and agreed that Congress should step in.

“Adding Joni Ernst to this bill is the defining moment for passing it,” said Ms. Gillibrand, who has pressed her colleague on the issue for years.

Adding to the momentum, a panel appointed by Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III has made a similar recommendation, saying that independent judge advocates should take over the role that commanders currently play. These independent military lawyers would report to a special victims prosecutor, who would decide whether to court-martial those accused of sexual assault, sexual harassment or domestic violence. The responsibilities could also extend to those accused of hate crimes. The change to military law would require an act of Congress.

At a news conference scheduled for Thursday, Ms. Gillibrand is expected to announced her new compromise with Ms. Ernst, who has pushed for several additional components aimed at preventing assault, such as cameras in common areas and better training from the earliest entry points to the military.

“I have long said that by the time we have a survivor and a predator, we have failed,” Ms. Ernst said. “We’ve got to do more on prevention, and Kirsten agreed.”

Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry spoke to reporters at the White House last week.
Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

John Kerry, a former secretary of state, said on Monday that he had never discussed covert Israeli airstrikes in Syria with Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, contrary to Mr. Zarif’s claim in a leaked conversation.

Mr. Zarif and Mr. Kerry spoke constantly when the two were negotiating the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. The Iranian foreign minister said in the recording, reported by The New York Times on Sunday, that Mr. Kerry had informed him that Israel had attacked Iranian interests in Syria at least 200 times.

The claim sparked a furor on Monday among conservatives who accused Mr. Kerry, who was secretary of state in the Obama administration and now serves as President Biden’s climate envoy, of betraying Israeli secrets.

But in a tweet on Monday evening, Mr. Kerry denied the assertion and pointed to reports long in the public domain about Israeli strikes on Iranian assets in Syria.

“I can tell you that this story and these allegations are unequivocally false. This never happened — either when I was Secretary of State or since,” Mr. Kerry wrote.

Mr. Kerry’s denial came after multiple attacks from prominent Republicans. Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, said that, if real, the remarks would amount to “catastrophic and disqualifying recklessness.”

Senator Dan Sullivan, Republican of Alaska and a former State Department official under President George W. Bush, called in a speech on the Senate floor for Mr. Kerry to resign, saying he was “astonished” that Mr. Kerry “would reveal the secrets of one of our most important and enduring allies in the region to an avowed enemy, the largest state sponsor of terrorism.”

And Nikki Haley, who served as United Nations ambassador in the Trump administration, wrote on Twitter that the claim was “disgusting” and accused Mr. Kerry of “tipping off Iran.”

But it was not clear that the alleged disclosure would have revealed any secrets.

Israel has made little effort to deny years of strikes attributed to it by Syria’s government, news outlets and nongovernmental organizations tracking the Syrian conflict, whose chaos Iran has sought to use to establish a foothold that could threaten Israeli security.

A New York Times article from 2019 included similar information on the number of Israeli strikes. And Mr. Kerry’s tweet cited a Washington Post reporter’s tweet of a 2018 Reuters article, sourced to a senior Israeli official, reporting that Israel had mounted 200 attacks on Iranian assets in Syria.

The recording in question captures Mr. Zarif speaking for hours to an interviewer producing an oral history of the current Iranian administration.

“Kerry has to tell me that Israel has attacked you 200 times in Syria?” says Mr. Zarif, who complains in the recording that Iran’s military has long kept him in the dark on crucial matters. “You did not know?” the interviewer asks twice. Both times, Mr. Zarif replies, “No, no.”

In the recording, Mr. Zarif does not specify when Mr. Kerry was supposed to have made the comment.

A State Department official noted on Monday that Mr. Kerry had a record of supporting Israel’s security and that many of the Republicans outraged by Mr. Zarif’s remarks had said previously that his words could not be trusted.

Earlier in the day, the State Department spokesman, Ned Price, told reporters at a daily briefing that he would not comment on “purportedly leaked material” and could not “vouch for the authenticity of it or the accuracy of it,” or what motives might be behind its emergence.

Mr. Price did not specifically address whether Mr. Kerry had made such comments to Mr. Zarif, but implied that they would not have constituted an improper disclosure.

“I would just make the broad point that if you go back and look at press reporting from the time, this certainly was not secret,” Mr. Price said. “And governments that were involved were speaking to this publicly, on the record.”

The F.B.I.’s headquarters in Washington. An internal audit showed that the bureau repeatedly violated rules intended to protect Americans’ privacy.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

For a second year, the nation’s surveillance court has pointed with concern to “widespread violations” by the F.B.I. of rules intended to protect Americans’ privacy when analysts search emails gathered without a warrant — but still signed off on another year of the program, a newly declassified ruling shows.

In a 67-page ruling issued in November and made public on Monday, James E. Boasberg, the presiding judge on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, recounted several episodes uncovered by an F.B.I. audit where the bureau’s analysts improperly searched for Americans’ information in emails that the National Security Agency collected without warrants.

Those instances appeared largely to be additional examples of an issue that was already brought to light in a December 2019 ruling by Judge Boasberg. The government made it public in September.

The F.B.I. has already sought to address the problem by rolling out new system safeguards and additional training, although the coronavirus pandemic has hindered the bureau’s ability to assess how well they are working. Still, Judge Boasberg said he was willing to issue a legally required certification for the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program to operate for another year.

“While the court is concerned about the apparent widespread violations of the querying standard,” Judge Boasberg wrote, “it lacks sufficient information at this time to assess the adequacy of the F.B.I. system changes and training, post-implementation.”

Because of that, he added, the court concluded that “the F.B.I.’s querying and minimization procedures meet statutory and Fourth Amendment requirements.”

A flashing sign in Miami advised people to fill out their census forms in October.
Credit…Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

Over the past decade, the United States population grew at the slowest rate since the 1930s, the Census Bureau reported on Monday, a remarkable slackening that was driven by a leveling off of immigration and a declining national birthrate.

The bureau also reported changes to the nation’s political map. The long-running trend of the South and the West gaining population, and congressional representation, at the expense of the Northeast and the Midwest continued, with Colorado and Florida each gaining one seat and Texas gaining two. California, long a leader in population growth, lost a seat for the first time in history. New York lost a seat, coming up just 89 people short in the census data.

The census counted 331,449,281 Americans as of April 1, 2020. That was up by just 7.4 percent over the previous decade.

The data will be used to reapportion seats in Congress and, in turn, the Electoral College. The count is critical for billions of dollars in federal funding, as well as state and local planning around everything from schools to housing to hospitals.

The constitutionally mandated count of everyone living in the United States and the congressional reapportionment were hampered and delayed by Trump administration efforts to remove undocumented immigrants from the count, a shift that most likely would have increased the number of Republican-held districts in the next Congress.

Questions about the count’s accuracy are likely to surface when the Census Bureau releases detailed demographic files for each state later this year. Those files are the basis for redrawing electoral districts, a messy political process that is fought in statehouses across the country.

Releasing the census figures months behind schedule will leave less time for individual states to draw and debate lines for congressional and state legislative districts. Republicans control the redistricting process in far more states than do Democrats, a result of both G.O.P. dominance in down-ballot elections and Democratic efforts to establish independent redistricting commissions in states where they have controlled the government, including California, Colorado and Virginia.

Republicans have signaled for months that they will press their advantage once the new figures are released, aiming to maximize the number of seats they hold in Congress by drawing districts beneficial to their candidates. The delay in releasing the census figures will limit the amount of time available for court challenges of newly drawn maps before the 2022 midterm campaigns begin.